Fungal Manna — ‘Shroom Soup

November 20, 2009

Anything that has real and lasting value is always a gift from within.
~Franz Kafka

Often, the divine derives from the decomposed. At least so say most funeral directors.

(You are aware that Dexter was preceded by decades—over a century ago—by Franz Kafka, right?)

Fungi are members of a group of eukaryotic organisms that includes microorganisms such as yeasts, molds and my beloved mushrooms. Eukaryotic, you say? Derived from the Greek for “noble” or “true” combined with “nut” (an intriguing match), eukaryotes are organisms whose cells contain complex structures enclosed within membranes. A single eukaryotic cell contains membranous compartments in which specific metabolic activities take place.

Decomposers that feed on the remains of dead plants and animals, fungi are taxonomically classified as a kingdom separate and apart from plants, animals, protists and bacteria. Not green for lack of chlorophyll, they have cell walls that contain chitin, unlike the cell walls of plants, which are composed of cellulose.

From a genetic view, fungi are more closely related to animals than to plants. Animals and fungi share a common evolutionary history, and the limbs of their genealogical tree branched away from plants over one billion years ago. The common ancestor of animals and fungi actually was a protist—a single celled creature that very likely possessed both animal and fungal characteristics. It is surmised that this precursor spent part of its early life cycle in a membranous and mobile form resembling a human sperm, and then morphing into its next stage by growing a stiff chitin cell wall more resembling the mushroom that graces our tables.

All murk aside, this is a silky, luxuriant soup worthy of your spoon. If you opt for a more meaty, handsome texture, simply omit the blending stage and keep the mushrooms sliced.

CREAM OF MUSHROOM SOUP

1 ounce dried mushrooms (porcini, morels, or shitakes)
1 C chicken or vegetable stock, heated

3 T extra virgin olive oil
2 T unsalted butter

1/2 C shallots, peeled and chopped
3 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
1 T fresh thyme, finally minced
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

1/2 lb crimini mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
1/2 lb shitake mushrooms cleaned, stemmed and sliced
1/2 lb oyster mushroomes, cleaned, stemmed and sliced

1/4 C Madeira
1/4 C all purpose flour

5 C chicken or vegetable stock
1-2 C heavy cream

Chives
Truffle oil

Soak the dry mushrooms in 1 cup of warm stock about 30 minutes, until plump. Strain the soaking liquid through cheesecloth to remove grit. Reserve, along with the reconstituted mushrooms, until needed.

Heat the oil and butter in a large, heavy pot or Dutch oven over medium heat, and then add the shallots, garlic, salt and pepper and cook for 5 minutes, until the shallots are soft and translucent but not browned.

Turn heat to medium high and add the sliced mushrooms, thyme, bay leaves and sage. Cook mushrooms to exude liquid until they become quite soft, about for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add Madeira and flour and stir constantly for around 5 minutes.

Add the chicken stock and the dried mushrooms along with the soaking water. Simmer for 30 minutes.

Remove the herbs, then add the cream and working in batches, puree the soup in a food processor or an immersion blender until smooth. Return to the pot and keep at a very low simmer until ready to serve.

Garnish with chives and drizzle lightly with truffle oil.

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